Burrowing Owl Conservation Society of BC

Captive Breeding

Eggs, Hatching and Development


Adult owls which are genetically distinct are paired up and established in separate breeding enclosures. The sexes of breeding birds have been previously confirmed through DNA analysis.

Each enclosure contains underground burrows which are totally dark and insulated. The owls will do some minor renovations to their burrows as in the wild such as importing dried grasses, moving the bedding (shavings) about. In the wild owls will often use dried manure at the entrance, possibly to mask odor. This is also provided to the owls for their housekeeping. There is also increased food caching in the burrows as breeding approaches. Owl pairs are kept as visually separate as possible. However, it is more important to prevent conflict and breeding disruption by establishing single pairs in each enclosure.

April / May

Breeding and egg laying Female remains underground a great deal of the time. The male remains out side of the burrow. He does not incubate but will bring food items(prey) to the burrow entrance for his mate .

Egg laying

  • Usually once every 36 hours
  • Usually 3 - 11 eggs are laid
  • Incubation usually starts after the first 4-6 eggs are laid (There will be synchronous hatching for the first chicks)
  • Incubation lasts approximately 28 days


Blind and helpless at three hours old.

Seven grams, three days old.

Subsequent eggs will be incubated as they are laid. The later young will be asynchronously hatched from 2 to 7 days later. This results in age differences in the clutch with the youngest chicks usually smaller than their older siblings. Younger, smaller chicks may die or are killed by siblings as they are not able to compete for food as well.

Adult female provides food for her young from her crop for the first 14 days.


Our policy is make the facilities as natural as possible.

Birds are paired and set up in separate breeding enclosures.

Underground burrows totally dark, insulated

Birds will do some renovations as in the wild (manure, caching)

Burrows cleaned once weekly, quickly and with minimum of disturbance.

Try to keep birds visually separate

Clutch at seven days old.

Breeding / egg laying takes place in April/May

Male does not incubate but brings food to female at entrance to burrow.

Egg laying rate is usually at a rate of one every 24 - 36 hrs . 3-11 eggs are usually laid

Incubation starts after first 4-6 eggs laid (synchronous hatching). Subsequent eggs are incubated asynchronously. Thus there are age differences in clutch. Younger smaller chicks may die or are killed by siblings.

Rapidly growing brood.

Youngest owls are helpless (little down, no temperature regulation). Development occurs rapidly.

Young are first seen at the entrance of the burrow between 2 to 3 weeks after hatching.. They begin to move to nearby burrows at about 25 days, and can fly at about 50 days of age. The juveniles become relatively independent of the adults - a bit like teenagers - between 60 to 70 days after hatching (Pictures of development sequence)

Occasional handrearing occurs where there is little chance that a chick will survive. Some of these young birds will become imprinted, meaning that they have developed strong ties to their human handlers. The chances of their survival as wild birds is not as great. However these owls have a very important role with our program. They are the ambassadors for their species, representing Burrowing Owls at educational sessions and helping to spread the conservation message. Two of our most well-known owls are Merlin and Scout.

At 21 days.



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